themighty logo

23 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Your OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can manifest in different ways, and many compulsions and obsessions are different than the stereotypes people typically believe about OCD. Some compulsions are obvious (hand-washing, organizing), while others are more subtle (counting, avoiding), and, despite the popularized narrative of OCD, it’s very possible to do compulsions without anyone noticing at all.

To find out some less known manifestations of OCD, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because of their OCD.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “It may seem like I’m not listening when people talk to me, but I’m constantly going over every part of my day so far and everything that’s going to come to make sure it happened or happens the ‘right’ way.” — Kelly L.

2. “Skipping certain songs on my playlists or CDs. People think I dislike the songs, but I really just have a compulsion to skip certain numbered tracks on certain albums. It’s usually the third song. I’ve gotten better with that compulsion, it was very ‘strange’ in high school though.” — Michelle G.

3.I have to make sure the toilet paper roll and the paper towel roll is hanging so it comes over the top. Not only do the ones in my home have to be that way, but I change them in other people’s homes and in public bathrooms as well. It absolutely has to hang over the top no matter what.” — Stormy S.

4. “I pop my fingers constantly. My thumb knuckles more than the others. I’ve been told that it’s ‘cool’ that they pop there because apparently not everyone can pop that knuckle, but it’s not cool when it’s something I have to do or my fingers hurt. I just look like a regular person popping their fingers, not someone who is doing it compulsively.” — Ashley H.

5. “I have trichotillomania, which is on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. That’s the reason I always keep my hair plaited — so I’m not so tempted to pull it out. I’m lucky to have thick hair, so you can’t see most of the thin or bald patches I have but I still feel like everyone can tell. I wish I could stop doing it but it’s not that easy.” — Abi T.

6. “My mind can be playing the same song over and over again for thousands of times a day, and sometimes I may hum the lyrics over and over again… I have no control over it and people thing I do love the song so much, but in reality, it greatly depressed me.” — Lee W.

7. “I obsess to the point of panic attacks over my son dying. Also, my compulsiveness is I am a compulsive over-eater. I can eat until I throw up. People see me and just think I’m lazy, fat and have no determination. But they don’t realize food addiction is the hardest addiction to break. Also, between my depression and OCD, I having hoarding-like tendencies. I really wish people understood OCD is a spectrum and isn’t all about needing things perfect. Either side you’re on, it can be hell.” — Tiff K.

8. “Overthinking and rumination of every conversation and interaction can keep me up at night for fear of doing or saying something wrong.” — Nara D.

9. “There are so many things, but one big problem people don’t notice is the counting to four constantly and doing everything in sets of four — all the time, which includes having to tap the door four times as I enter or leave a room as well as many other things (all while also avoiding the number before four). It gets really frustrating.” — Sam B.

10. “Pick the skin off my scalp. To most people it looks like I’m scratching my head. Back in school there were rumors that I was dirty and had lice because of this.” — Meika M.

11.I try not to leave the last word of a sentence or a last photo on a line of its own. Also, if I listen to a song on YouTube, I have to play another one similar to it afterwards.” — Jess L.

12. “Repeatedly checking that the volume of music or the TV is at a certain number.” — Clare M.

13. “When I comment on posts or create posts, they are almost always edited. Yet, if you look at the edit history or notice the edits, the changes are minor. I will reword something, add words, remove words, whatever I have to do to keep the comment or post from having the last line too short. The last line of the paragraph can’t be just one or two words. I need the last line to be at least five or six words, so it comes to about one third of the way into the block of text. I do this for all posts, all comments, and even all of my work (I’m a writer and editor of web content and other publications). Then, I will look at the same comment or post from another device (phone, computer, laptop), and make sure that the block of text still ‘looks right’ with the last line being an acceptable length. It bothers me that everyone’s devices are different and I can’t control what the text may look like from someone else’s phone or computer. It also bothers me that although I can control what my work looks like on my own computer, I can’t control what it looks like once it’s published. I often spend a ridiculous amount of time on a single post or comment.” — Johnna R.

14. “Most people don’t understand why I can’t eat the last bite of food, or why I can only eat this bite and not that bite. They don’t understand why I have to mark the days off of our calendar when it’s still that day. They don’t realize that if I don’t do these things, they may die, or I may die or my family may die.” — Jenny M.

15. “Counting the number of people in a room to be sure if anything happens like a fire, then I’ll know how many people need to get out safely.” — Alyse P.

16. “I’m putting my left then right foot onto the same stair, instead of left on one, right on the next one, to make sure I take an even number of steps. Or that I’m alternating large and small steps to fit an even number in each sidewalk square.” — Rebekah B.

17. “I am obsessed with the left hand side. If I decorate, ornaments are on the left, or facing the left. I clean from left to right. I sleep on the left of the bed. Everything in my life revolves around the left hand side.” — Phineen C.

18. “With my OCD, I tend to reassurance-seek. I have thoughts that go around my head constantly and cause my great anxiety, the only way to relieve this for a short amount of time is by seeking reassurance (that’s the compulsion) by asking questions or reassurance that the thoughts aren’t true. One thing a lot of people don’t understand is when I tell them the thoughts are bothering me I get told to ‘just stop thinking about it,’ they don’t realize I physically can’t, they also don’t understand why specific situations terrify me for no rational reason… Or why I’m constantly asking the same questions over and over again.” — Bethany N.

19. “Having a messy home because I get so overwhelmed trying to micro-organize each area of my home, I never get anything truly organized. Having to overanalyze everything. Having to research every decision — every decision, even the sizing of clothing, and then being so overwhelmed with data that I can’t make a decision. And, much, much more.” — Tip N.

20. “I organize my Netflix list in alphabetical order. It also needs TV shows, movies, stand up, documentaries, etc organized separately, but again alphabetically.” — Audrey H.

21. “When I have to say the same thing over and over, people think I’m hard of hearing or forgot I already said it, but for whatever reason repeating things over and over helps me make sure they understand and that I remember. Usually twice, sometimes four or six times.” — Makayla B.

22. “Ignoring them, avoiding conversation. I always have my cell phone or a book with me. It’s a crutch, I know that, but it’s helpful for times I can’t communicate because 5,000 weird thoughts are pouring through my head. Obsessive thoughts make it hard for me to have a normal conversation on the phone or face-to-face, so I’ll pull out my phone to play a game or stick my nose in a book to avoid an awkward conversation where I’m not really paying attention or responding appropriately. I avoid personal telephone calls unless I’m speaking to my mother. I have to write out my questions and possible comments on paper, a script, before making business calls.” — Lori H.

23. “Asking someone if they’re mad at me or hate me.” — Alaina M.

24. “They see me as a controlling person, but I really am not. It’s simply my OCD that makes me afraid to be out of control.” — Maggie C.